Shenzhen, Guangdong province, China, the present day. Actress Zhu Qi (Liu Xinyou), whose idol is Audrey Hepburn, dreams of being a major star but is stuck in tiny parts she’s not very good at.
Her husband, photojournalist Lai Mao (Zhou Baihao), whose idol is legendary war photographer Robert Capa, works for K-9 Weekly and has recently been demoted to an entertainment paparazzo.
One day, Outstanding Productions head Zhang Baigao, aka Jeff (Lin Dexin), spots Zhu Qi in a period drama he’s making and thinks she would be ideal as the new face for a new-style CNY movie he has in mind. It will be a Hong Kong-China co-production and different from the norm.
He offers her the role on condition that she’s unmarried and causes no scandal. Lai Mao agrees to remain out of the way in order to help Zhu Qi’s career.
Zhang Baigao hires an old friend, Li (Li Shangzheng), to direct the production, a sci-fi-cum-vampire film initially called 2047, which Li then changes to the similar-sounding but unmarketable 异灵肆柒. The supporting actress, Wang Jingru (Cai Jie), jealous at Zhu Qi being cast in the role she expected, discovers Zhu Qi is in fact married, and spills the news to K-9 Weekly’s CEO, Li Zhida (Jiang Zhiguang).
Not realising the connection, Li Zhida assigns Lai Mao to dig up evidence on Zhu Qi’s husband. Meanwhile, Zhang Baigao is becoming increasingly worried by Li’s arty conception, and also develops a more than professional liking for Zhu Qi.
Apart from the two leads, whose chemistry and collective energy manage to keep the ship afloat, everybody and everything else in film-industry comedy My Wife Is a Superstar 我老婆係明星 are working at 20% (or less) capacity.
This solo directing debut by Hong Kong veteran Weng Xiulan 翁秀兰 [Shirley Yung], who’s been on the production side for 20 years, most recently as a producer, is a masterclass in under-achievement: thanks to the likeable leads, you want it to be better, but the dialogue fails to zing, the film-industry satire is tepid and unoriginal, and the direction and editing never establish any rhythm or tempo.
The script by Hong Kong’s Chen Zhuoxian 陈卓贤 – one of the writers on horror Angel Whispers 花街柳巷 (2015) that Weng co-directed with actress Wu Jiali 吴家丽 [Carrie Ng] – keeps throwing up ideas but just leaves them hanging: the difficulty of new names breaking into an industry whose production has plummeted, the wife’s idolisation of Audrey Hepburn, complicity between the industry and the media, and so on.
That’s a pity, as the two leads have never been better. Taiwan-born, Hong Kong-based actress Liu Xinyou 刘心悠, 35, had a promising early start to her career (Mob Sister 阿嫂, 2005; Exodus 出埃及记, 2007; Shamo 军鸡, 2008) but has become more and more stuck in routine (or less) fare (Hungry Ghost Ritual 盂兰神功, 2014; S for Sex, S for Secret 小姐诱心, 2015).
Here, however, she shows a light touch for comedy, being ditzy without being brainless, looks great (especially when dressed to the nines à la Hepburn), and has a gift for physical comedy that doesn’t go over the top. She teams well with Hong Kong actor-singer Zhou Baihao 周柏豪, 31, with whom she previously starred in S for Sex (on which Weng was a producer) and who is believable as a scruffy photojournalist whose idol is legendary war photographer Robert Capa.
Both show an easy chemistry that deserves a much better script. Third-billed, Hong Kong singer Lin Dexin 林德信 is wooden as the film producer who gives Liu’s character her chance and then makes moves on her. Much better is Mainland-born Cai Jie 蔡洁 (the killer’s self-serving girlfriend in Port of Call 踏血寻梅, 2015) as a jealous rival who keeps promising to become quirkily comic but never really does.
In place of any real plot development, especially in the second half, Hong Kong names keep popping up in cameos, while the script’s centre of gravity, previously on Liu’s wannabe, later switches to Zhou’s paparazzo as the pressure mounts for him to keep his marriage to the new superstar a secret.
The film seems unsure, however, how far down the road of marital discord to go, which limits both actors. Among the light scattering of movie-buff jokes, the most elaborate is making the CNY comedy a parody of the Wang Jiawei 王家卫 [Wong Kar-wai] sci-fi fantasy 2046 (2004); but like everything else it’s left hanging after a funny start.
The widescreen photography by Hong Kong’s Ye Shaoqi 叶绍麒 and Zhang Shijun 张世君 (both of whom worked on S for Sex) is clean and sharp; but the editing is functional and the music ladled on in the second half with piano and orchestra. Funded by China money and actually set in Shenzhen, the film was shot in Cantonese and dubbed into Mandarin for release in the Mainland. (One elaborate wordplay, on the film-within-the-film’s Chinese title, doesn’t even work properly in Mandarin.)
In China it was given a standard Mandarin title of 我的老婆是明星, which means the same as the Cantonese one. Despite that, it sank with all hands, grossing a very unstellar RMB1.5 million.
Presented by Star Alliance Pictures (Wuxi) (CN), Zhengnengliang Film (Wuxi) (CN), Guoxing Film Culture Industry (Beijing) (CN). Produced by Sundream Motion Pictures (HK).
Script: Chen Zhuoxian. Photography: Ye Shaoqi, Zhang Shijun. Editing: Peng Zhengxi [Curran Pang], Wang Xulong. Music: Zhang Zhaohong. Production design: Yu Xinghua. Art direction: Yang Yaohua. Costumes: Ouyang Xia [Connie Auyeung]. Sound: Mai Zhi’an. Executive direction: Sun Zhiqiang.
Cast: Zhou Baihao (Lai Mao), Liu Xinyou (Zhu Qi), Lin Dexin (Zhang Baiguo/Jeff), Cai Jie (Wang Jingru), Jiang Zhiguang (Li Zhida, Lai Mao’s boss), Li Shangzheng (Li, film director), Guo Weiliang (first film director), Ye Peiwen (assistant director), Zhu Xun (makeup head), Li Yilang (Master 12, character in first film), Du Dewei (Du Dewei), Lu Haipeng (Lai Mao’s father), Huang Wenhui (Lai Mao’s mother), Che Wanwan (Lai Mao’s elder sister), Zhuang Simin [Jacqueline Ch’ng] (food-stall female boss), Shao Meiqi [Maggie Shiu] (starstruck neighbour), Fu Xiaowei (Judy, Zhang Baiguo’s secretary), Weng Xiulan [Shirley Yung] (film company board member).
Release: China, 8 Apr 2016; Hong Kong, 21 Apr 2016.